The 237km stage ending on the torturous slops of Monte Petrano has been tipped as the decisive stage of this year's Giro. The first two kilometres of this finishing climb are a vicious 11.4% grade, and will test the mettle of our maglia rosa Denis Menchov and his rivals.
Join us at 2PM CET for the live coverage of this epic stage!
Welcome back to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the Giro d'Italia! We're following the riders through the Apennines again, this time heading deeper into the mountain range where the peaks are dramatically higher than those of yesterday's stage.
First, the 175 remaining riders headed out from Pergola under another lovely summery day. They were missing David Millar (Garmin), Iban Mayoz (Xacobeo-Galicia) and Ricardo Serrano (Fuji-Servetto) who abandoned yesterday's stage.
They may have been able to see today's finishing climb, the Monte Petrano, looming 30km to the west, but the racers will tack on another 207km on a circuitous route before reaching that peak today.
The first 100km were quite hilly, with the course heading up several unclassified climbs the first of which began practically from the first kilometre.
As has been the case daily, the attacks began early and a breakaway was established by kilometre 20.
Leading the charge was our hero, Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank). There were a few surprising names in the move - Yaroslav Popovych, who is 14th overall was highest placed on GC at 9'00 behind our pink jersey holder Denis Menchov. Also there was Damiano Cunego, who is right behind Popo in the overall, 9'43 down.
Not to be worn out chasing all day, Rabobank placed two men in the move - Mauricio Ardila and Maarten Tjallingii. Serramenti also had two - Scarponi, our stage 6 winner, and Francesco De Bonis.
A total of 20 riders made up the breakaway.
Guillaume Bonnafond (AG2R La Mondiale), Yaroslav Popovych (Astana), Francesco Bellotti (Barloworld), Matthieu Sprick (BBox Bouygues
Telecom), Arnold Jeannesson and David Lopez Garcia (Caisse d'Epargne), Angel Gomez (Fuji-Servetto), Damiano Cunego (Lampre - N.G.C.), Kjell Carlström (Liquigas), Gabriele Bosisio (LPR Brakes - Farnese Vini), Dario Cataldo (Quick Step), Mauricio Ardila and Maarten Tjallingii (Rabobank), Michele Scarponi and Francesco De Bonis (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni), Pavel Brutt (Team Katusha), Jens Voigt (Team Saxo Bank), Delio Fernandez (Xacobeo-Galicia), Tom Danielson and Bradley Wiggins (Garmin - Slipstream).
However, Danielson and Wiggins were dropped on the first classified climb of the day, the category 2 Monte delle Cesane, making it 18 men out front.
The remaining 18 are still away, but there was a little hiccup along the route. A crash took down Brutt and Scarponi and split the move into two for a time.
Popovych, Ardila, Tjallingii, Scarponi, De Bonis, Voigt and Fernandez were in the lead group, with the rest left behind after the split. All riders were eventually able to rejoin the lead group except the Garmin duo, who were absorbed by the peloton.
Scarponi made it back to the front of the race in time to contest the KOM sprint, which he won. In doing so, he pulled himself 5 points closer to Stefano Garzelli, our green jersey man. However, his now 18 point total is far from Garzelli's 49.
KOM Monte delle Cesane
1 Michele Scarponi (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni) 5 points
2 Arnold Jeannesson (Caisse d'Epargne) 3
3 Yaroslav Popovych (Astana) 1
134km remaining from 237km
The leaders have a little more than six minutes on the peloton as they descent to the town of Secchiano. It's not long until they start today's highest climb - the Monte Nerone, a category 1 climb to 1417m.
The last 100km of this stage are ridiculously hard. First the Nerone, which measures 9.7km in length, then there is a rapid descent into the T.V. sprint which is interrupted by one of the many non-classified climbs.
Then the riders face the Monte Catria which is the highest peak in the Umbrian Apennines, although the riders will crest a good 400m below the actual summit.
From there, it's another wicked Giro descent into the base of the daunting final task, the Monte Petrano. It's base is painfully steep and we should see some fireworks from our GC men there.
126km remaining from 237km
There have been two abandons today. Acqua & Sapone lost Massimo Codol, while Bouygues Telecom just lost Yohann Gene. Frankly, we're surprised he stayed in this long as most of the sprinters have packed for home already!
Yesterday we saw some exciting racing by Ivan Basso, who used two minor climbs to put his GC rivals under pressure. He sent his team to the front on a category three climb and shredded the peloton - splitting it into several groups. It's not the first time he's used the Liquigas men to blow the race apart without ever seeing any benefit. Will they use the same tactic today?
Our man on the ground, Gregor Brown, spoke with the Liquigas team's Manuel Quinziato as he was disembarking from the Astana bus.
"Yesterday I was in the attack, but it is too hard to go again. I will stay with Pellizotti and Basso as far as I can today."
The Italian came out with a CD in his hand - it was a gift from Lance Armstrong, a Ben Harper CD. Apparently the two share a taste in music.
100km to go for the bunch and from here on out the road only gets tougher. They're still 6'50 behind our 18 men out front.
One of those men is Michele Scarponi, who spoke with Cyclingnews before the start today. The race is in his home region of Le Marche.
"I am a little tired, but I am happy to be racing in my home area," said Scarponi. He is from Jesi, 80 kilometres from the start.
"The locals will support me. I will give it a try in an escape today."
The Rabobank team of our maglia rosa Denis Menchov is in a tight spot today. Sure, they have Ardila and Tjallingii in the break, but they've also got to keep Popovych and Cunego, who are 9'00 and 9'43 down on Menchov, at a reasonable distance.
Menchov hinted yesterday that he has "friends" in the peloton, but at the moment his team is in the awkward situation of having to set the pace behind the break with two of their own men in it. Of course the two up front will not contribute to the break, but they can only do so much by sitting on.
Our leaders are on the lower part of Monte Nerone, and already we're seeing a couple riders in difficulty. One is Tjallingii - which is why Rabobank cannot let this break get too far away... and the other is David Lopez (Caisse d'Epargne).
The riders have been at it for a painful four hours already, and have averaged just 36km/h so far today. It's another hot day, and yesterday's short stage was flat out from the gun so perhaps our peloton is being a bit more conservative today, considering the nature of the last part of today's stage.
One rider who showed himself well yesterday was Quick Step's young Kevin Seeldrayers. He is second in the young rider classification and hopes to take over the white jersey today from Thomas Lövkvist (Columbia-Highroad).
"Maybe towards the end of today's stage I will try to drop him if it is possible," he told Cyclingnews. "He has over four minutes, so it will be a hard task."
The gap to the leaders has come down to 6'25 now as Pavel Brutt is now beginning to suffer and become detached on the climb.
Interesting note, when Michele Scarponi crashed early in the stage, he ripped his jersey open on one shoulder. Just in case he won another stage, we're sure he wouldn't want to have an unsightly hole in his kit, so he took a fresh jersey as well as a fresh bike after the wreck.
We received a correction, it is not Bonnafond in the move but his teammate Renaud Dion (AG2R La Mondiale).
Also there, Yaroslav Popovych (Astana), Francesco Bellotti (Barloworld), Matthieu Sprick (BBox Bouygues Telecom), Arnold Jeannesson (Caisse d'Epargne), Angel Gomez (Fuji-Servetto), Damiano Cunego (Lampre - N.G.C.), Kjell Carlström (Liquigas), Gabriele Bosisio (LPR Brakes - Farnese Vini), Dario Cataldo (Quick Step), Mauricio Ardila (Rabobank), Michele Scarponi and Francesco De Bonis (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni) and Jens Voigt (Team Saxo Bank).
Making this climb more difficult is a very narrow and roughly paved road. It's a big departure from the buttery smooth fresh pavement on yesterday's final climbs. The Diquigiovanni riders are controlling the breakaway with De Bonis doing the work for Scarponi.
Behind, the still quite sizable peloton is still being led by Rabobank's remaining men. Di Luca, Basso and Garzelli are not taking any chances and are staying right up front.
149km remaining from 237km
This climb is just relentless and ever changing in grade as it twists its way around the somewhat barren hillside.
Popovych took a big bottle of water from a fan and dumped most of it on his head - he saved some and offered it to one of his companions, but he refused. They have no shade here - nothing but grass, the blue skies and a relentless slope of the Monte Nerone.
Now it's Jens Voigt's turn to dump water on his head. He passes the bottle to Cunego, who happily takes part in the bath. The gap is coming down despite the peloton looking well controlled. No attacks yet - just a steady pace by Rabobank which is 2km/h faster than the break.
How long before Ardila is ordered back from the break? Or will Rabobank let him have a chance for the stage win?
151km remaining from 237km
Speaking of Popovych, he's using precious energy to go back to the Astana team car. There is quite a long caravan following the breakaway and he has a ways to go.
There are dozens of cycling fans dotting the hillside with their bikes nearby. As the break gets closer to the top, the crowds grow thicker and more exuberant.
154km remaining from 237km
Pop! Pop! Pop! riders blow one by one off the back of the peloton as the climb wears on. The heat and the effort is really starting to wear on the riders now.
Up in the break the group has stabilized, but are losing ground with ever pedal stroke. Just over five minutes' lead now.
Normally, higher elevations mean cooler temperatures, but clearly that is not the case on this climb. The riders are dousing themselves repeatedly with cold water. There is a light breeze but it's not a cool one.
Right now the race is between two men: Francesco De Bonis, who is doing all the work in the break for Diquigiovanni, and the Rabobank domestique who has been pulling just about the entire climb for Menchov.
The average grade is 7.6% on this 13km climb, and the leaders appear to have reached a steeper pitch. De Bonis still leads with 1km to go to the top
Our Rabobank duo leading the pink jersey group better watch out or they might get a little sun on their pasty white chests from the sun reflecting off the light gray road.
Di Luca gets a bottle from his helper who nearly rides off the road after handing it off. Luckily he saves it. The gap is hovering at four minutes to the leaders who are nearing the summit.
157km remaining from 237km
De Bonis leads over the top of the Monte Nerone followed by Scarponi. We guess the latter doesn't fancy his chances in the KOM competition. The clock ticks down as we wait to see how far behind our pink jersey group is.
Cunego took third over the top of the climb netting four points. De Bonis took 10, Scarponi 6.
To clarify to our readers, we did not deny that Pauwels' team made a tactical error in ordering him out of yesterday's break - we merely wonder if Sastre was really in a panic or if that is the interpretation of the partisan press.
A couple of the riders who were dropped from the break are being caught as the peloton crests the Monte Nerone, it's Tjallingii, who hands off a bottle to his teammate. He has quite a few - one for everyone - collected from the team car which is following the leaders.
At the top of the Monte Nerone, the leaders had 3'42 on the peloton. Now they are on the freshly laid, brightly lined pavement which leads them down to the valley floor. This road is much wider, safer and smoother than the way up to be sure.
Menchov has reinforcements in the chase now that Tjallingii is back. And his teammates have zipped up for the descent so we can take our sunglasses off...
None of our GC men have been put into difficulty so far. We see Sastre, Leipheimer, Di Luca, Basso, Pellizotti, and of course Menchov all nicely positioned in the main chasing bunch.
The leaders are bombing down at 70km/h at the moment on a straight section of road. Popovych leads in a tight aero tuck.
Interesting to note the yellow and black striped posts along the edge of the road. We can only presume that these are to mark the edges of the roads when they're buried in snow so the plows can dig them out. Not a flake here!
3'45" for the leaders on the descent.
163km remaining from 237km
The leaders are still snaking their way down this long descent, with the peloton in hot pursuit - quite literally hot. 3'55 from the front to the peloton.
170km remaining from 237km
The next climb will be equally hot, even more so as we could see some attacks as our breakaway begins to be threatened by the chasing peloton. Jens Voigt senses the urgency and takes the lead followed by Cunego and Popovych.
They've been racing for five hours already and still have 67km to go and two humongous mountains to climb. The first one beings with about 44km to go, but in between there's a nasty little bonus climb which the leaders appear to be encountering.
Ardila is back at the first Rabobank car getting bottles. Taking one, chucking it aside. Then grabbing another. Then holding onto the car as he chats with the director.
What's the strategy here? Ardila is a good climber, but we doubt he'll be given orders to win the stage. More likely would be that he will try to stay clear long enough to help Menchov on the final climb.
Davide Malacarne (Quick Step) is heading back to the race after having a nasty spill that has shredded the right side of his shorts. His skin is blackened from incident and he's not having fun on the descent - he's spooked.
176km remaining from 237km
The town of Pianello is nicely decorated for the Giro's passing as are many of the Italian towns. There are plenty of folks on the side of the road to cheer our breakaway on as they pass.
178km remaining from 237km
Cataldo is tail-gunning the breakaway as De Bonis resumes his duties at the front. Voigt has chosen to take his wheel alongside Scarponi. They're on a climb but it's not the climb.
Even so, Scarponi attacks! Cunego goes with him!
This is simply insult to injury to have a climb this steep and painful in between two major mountain passes. And they don't even get points at the top - Scarponi and Cunego have shattered the break.
There are two riders chasing behind Cunego and Scarponi - they are 8" behind. It's Bosisio (LPR) and Popovych (Astana).
Cunego isn't too amused when a fan tries to dump water on him. Perhaps he's wet enough from his previous dousings. He's got a quick descent now that is quite narrow and twisty. He and Scarponi are looking comfortable on the trip down.
Hm - back in the peloton an Astana rider comes to a halt when taking the inside line on a switchback - he tried to go across the grass and lost momentum and went from the front to the back.
Up ahead, Bosisio and Popo are bridging to the two leaders.
The peloton is now on that little climb before the climb. The appetizer climb. The bruschetta before the pasta.
The four leaders are having the Prosecco before the climb now - the palate cleanser of a descent before they tackle the carbonara - the Monte Catria.
186km remaining from 237km
It's a nice Prosecco too, smooth - well groomed. A hint of fresh asphalt.
They're speeding toward our T.V. sprint of the day in Cantiano - 1km to go before the line and the riders take a hand-up from the side of the road. That was a highly skilled soigneur who gave Scarponi a bottle at 45kph.
187km remaining from 237km
Under the banner, Scarponi, Popo and Cunego pass in that order. They didn't even work for it. They're heading through a confusing intersection now with very narrow lanes separated by traffic islands. Let's hope the peloton knows which way to go.
It looks as if the Rabobank boys have stepped off the gas a bit, as the gap to the now broken break has gone out over five minutes.
The four leaders have gained 1'18 on the chasing group which is down to eight or nine. We're not quite sure.
5'26" for the peloton - more precisely the reduced peloton containing the overall leader Menchov - as they pass under the T.V. banner.
Scarponi and Bosisio enjoy a cold soda as they prepare to tackle the next difficulty. Popovych opts for a gel.
191km remaining from 237km
Gilberto Simoni is in the main peloton today, sitting dangerously close to the back. He's well out of contention for the overall after yesterday. He fell to 26th overall, 21.20 down. He lost a whopping 18 minutes in yesterday's aggressive stage.
The leaders have 1'28 on the chasing bunch - the remnants of the break. The pink jersey group is 4'44 behind as the quartet begins to feel the lower slopes of the Monte Catria.
In the bunch, Di Luca got a bottle and it must have been either warm or not what he wanted. He made a squinchy face and passed it back, then his helper came up with a litre bottle of water.
Here comes Xacobeo's Fernandez back to the peloton. He was dropped quite a while ago and now has finally made his way to the bunch. This might give the Rabobank guys some satisfaction to see their efforts have reeled someone in.
11km to go to the top.
Cunego is feeling feisty and attacks! Scarponi has blown, while Popo is also unable to hold the pace. Only Bosisio gets on the wheel.
Popovych is not giving up and while he could not respond to the acceleration of Cunego, he was able to Ullrich it up to the two riders.
Bad news for Cunego, Bosisio - a winner of a stage in last year's Giro - looked quite comfortable closing down the gap. The Lampre rider's blond locks are ripping with sweat as he leads. Scarponi is being distanced.
Bosisio has a little disagreement with Popo - seems he wants the Astana rider to take second wheel. Scarponi is trying to get back on terms.
Thomas Lövkvist (Team Columbia - Highroad) is having trouble at the back of the peloton. He's been dropped with the Xacobeo riders. This will make Seeldrayers happy as he could surpass the Swede as best young rider.
Now Simoni has dropped anchor. He might be able to try for a stage win this Giro, but his GC hopes are long gone.
Still chasing behind our leading quartet are Renaud Dion (AG2R La Mondiale), Francesco Bellotti (Barloworld), Arnold Jeannesson (Caisse d'Epargne), Angel Gomez (Fuji-Servetto), Kjell Carlström (Liquigas), Dario Cataldo (Quick Step), Mauricio Ardila (Rabobank), Francesco De Bonis (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni) and Jens Voigt (Team Saxo Bank).
They're 1'28 to the leaders.
199km remaining from 237km
Simoni is getting some unwanted attention from the cameras, and sticks his tongue out at them. It's not a good day for our two-time Giro champion.
5km to go to the top for our leaders as our peloton is whittled down further. Now it's two Columbia riders at the back trying to hold on. Pauwels might have another shot at a stage - he's still in here.
We failed to mention that Scarponi made it back to the three riders in front, so it's Popovych, Cunego, Bosisio and our stage six winner suffering up the category 1 climb.
1'43" to the chasers, 3'24" to the field as we see an attack from Chris Froome (Barloworld), going past Cataldo who was dropped from the second group.
On the climb, it's time once more for cold water over the head - all four of our lead riders take part and pass the bottle.
The Quick Step and Bouygues Telecom cars stop on the side of the road. They've come back from the breakaway and will tuck in behind the field. They take the chance to do a quick rearrangement in the car.
Popo goes back for a bottle, and on his way back he decides to attack! He succeeds only in dropping Scarponi again.
198km remaining from 237km
The two Columbia riders Rogers and another are chasing back onto the maglia rosa group on a flatter section of road. The bunch looks like they've ridden through a river - every rider is either dripping with sweat or with water they've poured on themselves.
At the front of the maglia rosa group is Ardila, who has come back from the breakaway, and Ten Dam, who has been pulling for what seems like an eternity.
Scarponi is dropped for good now, we fear. He's been passed by the LPR car, the Astana car and the Lampre car. That only happens when there is enough time between the two groups for the cars to move safely into the gap.
The three leaders still have three km to go to the top as we see a Liquigas rider solo on the road. We presume this is Carlström on his way back to help Basso and Pellizotti.
Scarponi is looking quite a bit more laboured than he did in the first week when he stormed away from the break to take stage six. He's fallen behind Carlström who is 33" behind the leaders. Scarponi is 45" behind now.
Cunego and Bosisio are keeping a close eye on Popovych. He went back for another bottle at the team car and Cunego ups the pace.
Perhaps his little attack earlier didn't earn him much favour with the Italians? Popo is struggling to get back up to the front.
We're not sure who is left from the second group, but as Scarponi goes backwards, we see the Caisse d'Epargne car move past. That must mean that Jeannesson is still up the road.
Cunego gets a face full of water from an elderly fan on the side of the road - the rider's face says that he wishes the man would perfect an "over the head" dumping technique.
202km remaining from 237km
Cunego goes under 35km to go banner and riders are increasingly taking water from the road side.
Apparently the heat is so intense that the teams are running out of cold water in their cars and are in a panic. This could explain Menchov's disappointment when he is handed a warm bottle.
The LPR soigneur runs alongside Di Luca and hands him up some food and a bottle. Popovych is still chasing after our two leaders, Cunego and Bosisio.
The top comes with 34.6km to go and cannot be far now. Popo made it on the wheel, but Cunego upped the tempo and rode him right out again.
Cunego is not going to be challenged for the line by Bosisio. Popo comes across in third just a bike length behind.
Kjell Carlström (Liquigas) is going to be fourth across the line - perhaps 1'39 behind? We're not sure if he crossed the line at that time. The Caisse d'Epargne rider Jeannesson comes across just over two minutes behind the leaders.
Scarponi is behind, and praying to be caught. The heat, the fatigue, the relentless climbing - he just wants it to end. But he's still got a big ugly climb before he can climb off.
207km remaining from 237km
30km to go and the leaders are on the descent, which is quite narrow again - twisty, as usual. Smooth pavement so far.
The greatly reduced maglia rosa group is down to about 25 riders only. 3'15 for the group of Menchov.
Carlström has sat up and gone back to help his captains. We're not sure there are any other Liquigas men in the group with Basso and Pellizotti - We only see 3 bright green jerseys.
Popovych has attacked on the descent! Cunego lets him go - it's a kamikaze move as the roads are dangerously narrow and have a drop off into the trees.
One wrong move on a left bend and he could be climbing those trees to get back on the road. There is a very steep drop to the right completely unprotected by barriers.
The roads are roughly paved and the edges covered is dust and gravel. The moto official is waving the red flag to caution the chasing peloton as they pass under 30km to go.
212km remaining from 237km
Popo is on a simpler part of the descent now which is equally narrow and twisty, but lacks the precipitous drop off.
Popo's opened up 12" on the chasing pair.
The chase group is under the yellow flag at the moment, being paced down the hill by a motorcycle official. There has been a slight incident with the Astana rider.
It's Leipheimer! He has a flat! He has a teammate to help him get back on.
215km remaining from 237km
Bad news for Leipheimer - he will face a furious chase to the base of the Monte Petrano where surely the GC men will launch their attacks.
Just 10km to the climb for Popo, who still leads Cunego and Bosisio. Still twisting and turning his way down from the height of Monte Catria to the base of the final climb.
13" for Cunego and Bosisio, 2'14 to the maglia rosa group.
The team cars come to a halt before the switchback as Leipheimer and his teammate come flying past. Surely they're not far behind the bunch now. It appears as if the Rabo guys have eased up to let him get on.
Up ahead, Popovych is undaunted - he's hammering down the road.
217km remaining from 237km
Ardila leads on the descent, opening up a gap to the rest of the group, but he's not maxing out his speed.
20k to go for Popovych and still more descending before the final climb!
219km remaining from 237km
18km to go for Popo, and we're still waiting on a time split for our chasing group with the GC favourites.
Popo adopts a somewhat dangerous pose on the bike with his chest on the bars to get all of the advantage he can.
We think Leipheimer has made the back of this group - we see one Astana rider up near Garzelli, but it looks too big to be Levi. Perhaps this is Armstrong? Leipheimer may not have been able to move forward from the back of the group on the twisty bits.
Cunego is now in solo pursuit of Popovych - there's no sign of Bosisio and we wonder if he's ahead or behind Cunego. We're guessing ahead - the LPR team car is still behind Cunego. The clock is still counting down for the maglia rosa group - 4'52!
We've been getting inaccurate gaps. It's nearly 5 minutes from our lone leader Popo to the maglia rosa. The slowing on the descent gave our leaders a big advantage.
222km remaining from 237km
15km to go for Popo and he has just 20 seconds on Cunego.
Bosisio apparently went for an off-road excursion in a corner back there, and is chasing back to Cunego.
The Rabobank team is not yet in a panic. Popo may be only 9 minutes down on GC, but even with five minutes at the base of the climb it seems Menchov is confident he can close the gap to the Astana man down.
Bosisio is now 1'30 behind the leader as Cunego chases in second alone.
15km to go for the chasing maglia rosa group which is 4'59 behind Popo. That's bound to start to come down as the Astana man is beginning to feel the road start to incline.
226.4km remaining from 237km
The Ukrainian rider has really come into his own after a dismal season as domestique for Cadel Evans at Silence Lotto. Just over 10km to go and from here it is all uphill.
It also starts with 2km of 11.4% average!
227km remaining from 237km
10km to go and it's not ridiculously steep - but it's certainly slowing the progress of Popovych and Cunego who is chasing 18" back.
Make that 32" behind for Cunego.
Rather predictably we see the Liquigas riders come to the front and open the throttle. They're not quite at the base of the climb yet.
We see Pauwels moving up and going past! He's opened up a gap.
Pauwels continues to lead as they hit the base of the climb and there is a moment of hesitation in the Liquigas train.
Di Luca, Basso and Menchov have joined him, but where is Sastre?
Basso, Di Luca and Menchov go past Pauwels who was clearly trying to set something up for Sastre. But the Spaniard is at the back of the bunch!
He's behind Francis De Greef (Silence-Lotto) - a much bigger rider who is clearly not going forward.
Ignatas Konovalovas (Cervelo) is going backwards now as Sastre moves up. We see Bruseghin in trouble back here.
Armstrong is on Di Luca's wheel. We see Garzelli and Leipheimer too.
And there goes Basso! Menchov marks him and Di Luca gets on.
Garzelli is the only one to go across and Leipheimer has yet to respond to this attack. He has Armstrong to pace him.
It's now or never for our GC men and who is going to take up the chase?
229.4km remaining from 237km
It's Armstrong going with Sastre and Leipheimer is getting dropped?
Leipheimer is in trouble - he's back with Serpa, Pellizotti, Arroyo...
Armstrong lets Sastre go, but then finds some more energy and bridges up to the group of Menchov. It's Basso, Di Luca, Menchov, Garzelli, Armstrong and Sastre - and there goes Sastre!
The Spaniard has put them in trouble.
They've picked up Bosisio and lost Armstrong!
And they dropped Bosisio. Now Di Luca goes! Still 8km to go!
They're going to get off the steep part and onto an easier section of the climb soon, but the damage has been done. Di Luca and Menchov have proved themselves strongest.
Sastre has also proven that he's a factor.
Basso is still here, but his teammate Pellizotti is heading backwards.
Let's not forget about Popovych who is up the road still 3 minutes ahead. Cunego is 1'00 behind the Astana man.
Situation is: Yaroslav Popovych (Astana) in the lead.
Damiano Cunego (Lampre) is chasing at 1'00 and not looking fresh.
Danilo Di Luca (LPR) our ciclamino jersey, our pink jersey Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Carlos Sastre (Cervelo) and Ivan Basso (Liquigas) at 3'20.
231.1km remaining from 237km
There goes Sastre! 5.9km to go for Popo...
Basso responds and drops the two jersey holders!
They're feeling the burn now - Sastre has opened up a fine gap and Basso is trying to close it but he has 50m or so. Garzelli is making his way to Di Luca and Menchov.
We have a new face in the group of our maglia rosa: Tadej Valjavec (AG2R La Mondiale). He's been finishing quite well and is clearly riding well today!
1'40" now from Popo to Cunego as Sastre is looking like his Alpe d'Huez self and passes the 6km to go banner.
Basso isn't closing the gap to the flying Spaniard. Up ahead, Popo is suffering under the 5km to go banner.
Sastre has closed the gap to 2'52 - and now Di Luca attacks the maglia rosa!
They've gotten to a flatter section, and Menchov can power up to the Italian's wheel. Wow! This is old school, no messing around, gloves off racing!
Sastre has caught and passed Cunego. Now behind the Di Luca/Menchov duo have called a truce at the 5km to go banner.
Sastre looks like he's doing facial exercises. He smiles with each breath in and pushes his lips out with each exhalation. His breathing is short now as Basso begins to come into view.
Now Di Luca/Menchov catch and pass Cunego. Popo is still soldiering along ahead - he looks down at his legs as if to beg them to give out more power.
Popo will know he's being pursued by the 2008 Tour de France champion...
Armstrong has gone back for Leipheimer and is pulling for him to limit his losses.
Armstrong is actually looking quite a bit more energetic than Popo who has hit a wall. Sastre is within sight of Popo!
OK, maybe not quite in sight - 1'20" from Popo to Sastre.
Basso is going to be caught by Di Luca and Menchov. He could not close the gap. Sastre is still opening up his lead.
234km remaining from 237km
It's 1'50 from Popo to the pink jersey group... have they closed down Sastre's move?
Three agonizing kilometres left for Popo.
Leipheimer has lost 1'15 at the moment...
Sastre is coming up to the 3km to go banner and he's just 40" behind!
Leipheimer is coming under threat by the Cervelo rider - he was 2'09 ahead of Sastre on GC this morning. Right now he's further behind than that we think.
We're pretty sure Basso was caught and passed by the maglia rosa group, but we're not sure.
Sastre can see Popo!!!
Sastre comes flying by like a freight train and Popo is completely demoralized.
Sastre is storming away to victory on the stage now and Di Luca and Menchov are at an impasse.
235km remaining from 237km
2km to go for Sastre! He's looking smooth, confident. Basso is now coming under 2km to go not far behind at all - 25"!
Di Luca/Menchov are within sight of Basso, too. Perhaps 42". Where is Leipheimer?
235.4km remaining from 237km
Armstrong is still leading Leipheimer. He takes a bottle from a fan and dumps part of it on his head then passes it back to Leipheimer.
Sastre is being chased by rabid fans as they scream and gesticulate wildly. They go even crazier for Basso as he comes by 20+ seconds later.
Sastre is coming into the barricaded section as he approaches the 1km to go banner. Basso is seeming to lose ground here.
236km remaining from 237km
1km to go for Sastre - let's count the gaps!
Sastre is going to get this stage. 26" to Basso and only 33 to the pink jersey!
It's painfully steep at the end and this last kilometre will take a while.
The fans cheer loudly for Sastre. Now Basso is caught and Di Luca surges.
236.5km remaining from 237km
Here comes Sastre in sight of the line. He gets some flatter roads.
He can see the line now and he's still going as hard as he can.
There will be no time for victory salutes here - every second counts!
He wants the time bonuses - he gets it ahead of Di Luca.
24 seconds to Sastre. Basso finishes at 28 seconds or so. Now we wait for Leipheimer...
Pellizotti, Garzelli and Masciarelli come in over a minute later. Garzelli attacks for the points and his teammate takes the rest over Pellizotti. Valjavec is next.
Here comes Leipheimer to the finish - he's just under 3 minutes behind.
2'51 for Leipheimer and Popovych straggles in 3'22 behind.
Sastre has certainly pulled himself into contention - if not for the overall win in Rome, at least for the podium. But we doubt the Spaniard will be satisfied with another Grand Tour podium.
Rogers came in 3'05 down today... we'll see some rearranging on the leader board tonight!
Sastre has pulled himself into third overall, but the gap between Di Luca and Menchov has opened slightly. He lost time on the bonifications for the stage finish. The big loser was Leipheimer, who suffered that ill-timed flat tire.
Sastre is still facing a formidable 2'19 deficit to Menchov, but with two big mountain finishes he can try to make up time.
7 hours, 11 minutes and 54 seconds of racing on a sweltering day in Le Marche. The riders will be feeling it tomorrow for sure! Good thing they have a rest day to try and rehydrate and recover.
Make sure to come back on Wednesday as the racers face the long uphill race to Blockhaus.